• U.S. Awards $1.7 Billion Contract to Buy Radios for Afghan Army

    July 29, 2016 // 19 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Economy, Military, PRT Life




    I always found myself giggling during the Democratic debates when Hillary would ask Bernie how he was going to pay for things like healthcare or college tuition, and then Bernie stammering to find an answer.


    They both knew the secret but neither would say it — there’s plenty of money, we just don’t want to spend it on Americans.

    We think of that as freeloading, unearned stuff. Go get a job, moocher. But then move the same question overseas and everything changes. There is always plenty of money, and the people getting free stuff from that money aren’t moochers. They’re allies.

    So how much healthcare would $1.7 billion buy? Because that’s how much money the United States just laid out to buy radios for the near-useless Afghan Army. And while I don’t know how much healthcare the money would buy, I do know it will purchase a helluva lot of radios. Is everyone in Afghanistan getting one? Maybe we’re buying them for the Taliban, too.


    Anyway, the $1,700,000,000 radios for Afghanistan contract was just recently awarded to the Harris Corporation. And here’s a funny thing: only one company — Harris — actually put in a bid for the contract.

    But the Afghans must need more stuff than just radios, and so the U.S. has money ready for that.

    The United States will provide $3 billion to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces from 2018 to 2020 for, well, we don’t really know. Meanwhile, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said the White House planned to ask Congress for about $1 billion a year in development and economic assistance for Afghanistan through 2020. And if that isn’t enough, the United States and its allies are expected to raise $15 billion for the Afghan National Defense and Security forces at a NATO summit scheduled for next month in Warsaw.

    There’s money. You just can’t have any of it, moochers.



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  • The Secret Rules That Allow the FBI to Spy on Journalists

    July 28, 2016 // 31 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    spy


    The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.


    Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.

    So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.


    As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.

    The rules govern the FBI’s use of national security letters (NSL), which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. National security letters are themselves an anti-Constitutional outgrowth of the Patriot Act and its successors. The letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies conducting a national security investigation to demand access to information without a warrant, and, in most cases, prohibit the organization required to supply the information (for example, a library asked what books you read) from even acknowledging the request was made.

    The FBI issued nearly 13,000 NSLs in 2015 alone. No one outside of government knows why they were issued, who was affected, and what information was gathered.


    The FBI’s secret rules in the specific cases of whistleblowers and leaks only require an additional couple of internal signatures. In addition, the rules specify any extra oversight layers do not apply at all if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization “associated with a foreign intelligence service” or “otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power.” That will easily rope in any national media service, and most likely is broad enough to pull in quasi-national media outlets like the BBC or Japan’s NHK. And once again, it is the FBI itself defining who is and who isn’t whatever it wants them to be.

    In an era when our government conducts more and more of the “people’s business” in secret, the need for brave men and women to step and an provide information, and the need for brave journalists to report that information, is ever more urgent. Without men like Edward Snowden working with journalists, we would never have known the depths of the NSA’s spying, for example. And without the heroic efforts of the person who leaked these once secret FBI rules, we would never have known what new tools the government had granted itself to weaken the press freedoms that otherwise helped sustain this nation for centuries.




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  • Did Russian Intelligence Hack the DNC Servers?

    July 26, 2016 // 41 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, NSA, Questions for Clinton

    russianbear

    Short answer: nobody knows, but the media is treating it as a fact based primarily on a single technical source employed by the Democratic National Committee. I read the source’s publically available explanation. Here’s what I found.

    A Quick Taste of Media Conclusions

    Despite a line in paragraph five saying “Proving the source of a cyberattack is notoriously difficult,” the New York Times offers the following statements.

    — “researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies;”

    — “Though a hacker claimed responsibility for giving the emails to WikiLeaks, the same agencies are the prime suspects;”

    — “Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr. Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone’s guess.”

    — “It is unclear how WikiLeaks obtained the email trove. But the presumption is that the intelligence agencies turned it over, either directly or through an intermediary. Moreover, the timing of the release, between the end of the Republican convention and the beginning of the Democratic one, seems too well planned to be coincidental.”

    There’s more, but you get the picture. The article also quotes Clinton staffers citing unnamed experts and researchers.

    Who Are These Experts?

    The only experts cited work for a company hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the hack. There is no indication of any neutral third party investigation. The company, Crowdstrike, issued a publicly available report on what they found.

    The report title makes clear the company’s conclusion: Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee.


    What Does the Report Say?

    The report has some technical explanations, but focuses on conclusions that seem to be at best presumptions, despite the media treating them as fact.

    — The key presumptive conclusion seems to be that the sophistication of the hacks points to a nation-state actor. “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities.”

    — The hackers, two separate entities Crowdstrike says worked independently, used techniques known to be used by Russians. Better yet, with no evidence at all presented, Crowdstrike concludes, “Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.” Also, for one of the alleged hackers, “Extensive targeting of defense ministries and other military victims has been observed, the profile of which closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government.”

    — By the end of the report Crowdstrike is just plain out called the hackers “Russian espionage groups.”

    FYI: Fidelis, another cybersecurity company, was hired by Crowdstrike to review the findings. Fidelis worked exclusively and only with data provided by Crowdstrike (as did several other companies.) Fidelis They concluded the same two hackers, COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR APT, committed the intrusion, but made no comments on whether those two were linked to the Russian government.


    Um, Valid Conclusions?

    Despite the citing with certainty of experts and researchers by the media and the Clinton campaign, the only such expert who has made any findings public has basically thrown out little more than a bunch of presumptions and unsubstantiated conclusions.

    Left undiscussed are:

    — the commonality of hackers using “false flags,” say where an Israeli hackers will purposely leave behind false clues to make it seem that a Hungarian did the work. As one commentator put it sarcastically “The malware was written in Russian? It was a Russian who attacked you.
    Chinese characters in the code? You’ve been hacked by the Peoples Liberation Army.”

    — the question of if the hackers were “Russians,” can anyone tie them to the Russian government? Joe Black Hat breaking into some system in Ireland may indeed be an American person, but it is quite a jump to claim he thus works for the American government.

    — there is also a significant question of motive. For Putin to be the bad guy here, we have to believe that Putin wants Trump in power, bad enough to risk near-war with the U.S. if caught in the hack, and bad enough to really p.o. Clinton who will be nominated this week anyway, and hoping of course that evidence of dirty tricks by the DNC released in July will be enough to defeat her in November. That’s a real s-t-r-e-t-c-h, Sparky.

    — other than those private persons who hack for their own entertainment or personal political beliefs, most work for money. They steal something and sell it. Information from the DNC system would find an easy buyer.

    — Who might be intersted in buying these emails? Along the range of actors who would benefit from exposing these emails, why would the Russians come out on top? Perhaps the Republicans? China? Pretty much any of the many enemies the Clintons have amassed over the years? Hell, even Bernie Sanders, whose complaints about the DNC were validated by the email release. The suspects based on motive alone make up a very long list.



    Learning More

    For some intelligent analysis suspicious that the DNC hack was a Russian intelligence job, try this.

    For some more technical information on one of the alleged DNC infiltrators, here you go.




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  • Clinton, Wasserman Schultz and the Wheezing Corpse of the Democratic Process Revealed

    July 25, 2016 // 22 Comments

    Posted in: 2016, Democracy, Questions for Clinton

    hillary


    Wikileaks over the last few days dumped tens of thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server.

    The disclosures of dirty tricks directed against Bernie Sanders contained in those emails are startling, and only add to the whirlpool of corruption and sleaze surrounding Hillary Clinton and the wheezing corpse of the democratic process.



    There’s a lot to unpack here:

    — The same people on the Clinton team who made enormous efforts to claim her private email server, which operated unencrypted over the Internet for three months including during trips to China and Russia and which contained Top Secret national security data, was not hacked by the Russians now are certain that the DNC server was hacked by the Russians.

    — Many in Camp Clinton and the media labeled Bernie Sanders’ supporters are paranoid when they made claims during the primaries that the DNC was working against them. The hacked emails confirm the DNC was working against them, including suggestions that the DNC find ways to suggest Sanders was an atheist to discredit him in religious areas.

    — Persons who claimed many in the media, including CNN, were biased in favor of the Clinton campaign during the primaries were dismissed. The hacked emails confirm the DNC was working closely with the media to seek negative coverage of Sanders and positive coverage of Clinton.

    — Politico now admits it was a “mistake” sending the DNC an article draft in advance. The writer showed the draft to the DNC even before his own editors saw it.

    — Facebook admits to blocking Wikileaks links to the DNC email hack from its newsfeeds (but blames spam filters.)

    — The DNC appears to have expended significantly more efforts toward defeating Bernie Sanders than they did against any of the Republican candidates.

    And some more:

    — Instead of focusing on the contents of the hacked emails and the dirty tricks they exposed, many mainstream media outlets headlined instead the Clinton campaign talking points that the Russians hacked the emails and released them in an effort to derail her candidacy in favor of Donald Trump. Many of the same stories suggest Trump is some sort of pro-Putin stooge.

    — On 60 Minutes, Clinton refused to say intervention by the DNC to favor one candidate was “improper.” Her non-answer was edited out of the interview broadcast.

    — After DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation following this week’s Democratic convention, the Clinton campaign announced Wasserman Schultz would be hired by them as “honorary chair of Hillary’s campaign’s 50-state program to elect Democrats in every part of the country, and as a surrogate for her campaign nationally.”

    — Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be replaced as DNC chair by (only now former) CNN commentator Donna Brazile. Brazile argued the pro-Clinton side of debates on CNN throughout the primary season.

    — In the hacked emails, Brazile said “I will cuss out the Sanders camp!” over complaints by Sanders of inadequate representation by the DNC. In March while still employed by CNN, Brazile called Sanders’ decision to run as a Democract for the additional media exposure “extremely disgraceful.”

    And very sadly:

    — Bernie Sanders, his campaign sabotaged by the DNC with what were once “paranoid” accusations now proved, still endorses Hillary Clinton and will still speak at the Democratic National Convention.

    It pains me to say as his once-supporter that the man has no courage. Even Ted Cruz stood up for himself in front of the Republicans in Cleveland. It is a sad day when we learn Ted Cruz has more balls than Bernie Sanders.

    Those who are calling all this a coup of sorts, they’re wrong. It’s a surrender. But in the words of Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make?




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  • Defeating Islamic Terrorism. Here’s How…

    July 25, 2016 // 3 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    isis lego


    As terrorism struck again in Nice and Germany and… Donald Trump outlined his policy against Islamic State: as president, he will seek a full declaration of war from Congress, the first such formal invocation since Pearl Harbor.


    Trump was short on specifics but very clear he would take the strategies of the post-9/11 era into a presidency. Clinton, for her part, intends on “intensifying the current air campaign [and] stepping up support for local forces on the ground.” Their French counterpart, President Francois Hollande, declared “We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”


    The problem is that none of that will work. While perhaps necessary at times, military force is far from sufficient in defeating Islamic terrorism.

    Post-Germany, Post-Nice, post-Brussels, post-Turkey, post-Paris… it is clear the last 15 years of the war on terror in general, and the last two against Islamic State in particular, have not worked. No society can defend itself fully when any truck can be turned into a weapon. No amount of curating social media will prevent disenfranchised people from becoming radicalized. Ramadi fell, Fallujah fell, Mosul will likely fall, and Nice still happened.

    “The effect that’s going to happen now is like stepping on a ball of mercury,” stated one American intelligence analyst. “You step on a ball of mercury, all the pieces break up and spread around the world.”


    A new way of thinking is needed.


    The west must be willing to understand Islamic terror beyond scary search engine terms and decide if we wish to tackle the problem at its core, or simply choose to live with a new normal where incidents like Nice will just happen. Here is what might be considered. It will be hard, and will be unpopular.


    — Admit the current strategy has not worked. Agree, in the U.S. and abroad, that something new is needed. Statements such as those from Trump and Clinton block anything beyond more of the same.


    — Understand that the roots of Islamic terror rest in part in the Sunni-Shia divide, which the west helped fuel in arming jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s and whose fuse the west lit in 2003 when it invaded once-stable Iraq. A significant amount of terror takes place insider the Muslim world, and sectarianism is a steady fuel for recruitment.

    At the same time, both sides of the divide recruit well off of horror stories of CIA torture, the continued existence of Guantanamo, the fits of Islamophobia played out in western refugee policy, French and American militarization of Islamic Africa, and a core belief that the actual goal of the western powers is not to “defeat Islamic State,” but to create a permanent state of war against Muslims while garrisoning the Middle East (it used to be more about taking Arab oil, but the point is the same.) More war, more troops, and more draconian security measures are just gas on those fires.


    — Another driver of Islamic terror is the unhappiness of many Muslim youth with the autocratic, secular governments in most of their Arab nations. The west must pull back its support for such governments and lessen its fear of non-secular governments. What Washington sees, for example as expedient, realpolitik decisions to support the repressive Saudi government, Bahrain where the United States turns a blind eye to human rights in return for an important naval base, or allowing the Arab Spring to be crushed in Egypt as a military coup unseated the only democratically elected president in the nation’s history, have not worked well in even the medium term. Same for supporting the corrupt government in Baghdad.

    The west must find rapprochement with Muslim leadership (Iran, with a robust participatory component inside a fundamentalist theocracy, is an interesting example.) Much of radical jihadism is less about destroying the west than it is about changing the Middle East; even 9/11, the worst of the terror attacks, had as its extended purpose pulling the United States into Afghanistan in hopes of triggering a broader Muslim uprising across the region.


    — Immigration out of the Middle East is toothpaste out of the tube. It can’t be snaked back in by tough policies against refugees or stopping Muslims from entering the United States. Western nations must assimilate their Islamic immigrants.

    Islamophobia, law enforcement discriminatory targeting of Muslims, hot-headed rhetoric and the rise of right wing governments pleasing citizens enamored anxious to trade their freedom for security, fuel the anger and sense of displacement of so-called lone wolves, and send them to the solutions offered by groups such as Islamic State. It is not about cleaning up Twitter. It is about chipping away at the mindset that makes those 140 character messages so attractive.


    This is, in the end, a long war of ideas. Success must include difficult decisions to acknowledge the tides of history moving across the Middle East. Because you can’t stop the next truck. You do have a chance at making it so a man won’t choose to get behind the wheel.



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  • Syrians Use Pokemon Go to Depict Their Plight

    July 23, 2016 // 45 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Military, Syria

    pokemongo_syria


    Syria passed a grim milestone this week. The country now has more displaced people/refugees without homes than people still living in their homes.


    The only significant response to this humanitarian crisis, a slow motion genocide, from the West has been more war, both from foreign aircraft and special forces directly, and via more support for the militias on the ground. The Syrian people are treated as simply part of the landscape being fought over. Destroying them seems as consequential as blowing up the buildings they used to live in.

    That serves as background — literally — to the striking Pokemon Go images (above) created by Syrian artist Khaled Akil and others. They are trying to use the international frenzy over the game to keep attention on the plight of their people.


    Here, they say, is what politicians’ claims to “destroy ISIS!” really mean.

    The war in Syria, now in its sixth year with no end in sight, has killed more than 280,000 people. It is as if the only real question to be decided is if the West will run out of ammunition, or Syria out of people, first

    Another artist, Syrian Saif Aldeen Tahhan, posted showing Pokemon Go players holding smartphones and seeking not Pokemons but medical care, school books, or undamaged homes. One image depicts a smartphone in front of a rubber dinghy of refugees at sea, with the user trying to capture a life ring.

    “I am in Kafr Nabal in Idlib province, come and save me,” reads text underneath a Pikachu on a poster held by a young boy.








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  • Cleveland Police to RNC Protesters: Don’t Hide Your Faces (Facial Recognition)

    July 21, 2016 // 27 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Anonymous


    Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued a warning to an undisclosed number of masked protesters outside the Republican National Convention: “If you are a member of a group that causes you to have to hide your face, then you probably need a different cause.”


    Police claim they have received at least a dozen calls related to concerns about the small groups of black-clad “anarchists” with masks.

    So why is Chief Williams so concerned about the face masks? Too early for Halloween?

    Nope, facial recognition.


    Law enforcement aggressively employs facial recognition technology at events such as the Republican National Convention to identify “persons of interest” and to catalog new persons of interest. Masked faces don’t play as well with the technology (though newer tech can get around some limitations, and iris scan tech needs only to see your, well, eyes. More below.)

    With facial recognition, a computer digitizes an image of someone’s face in a way that makes fooling the system difficult, stuff like measuring the distance between eyes, the angle of one’s nose, ear lobe shape and other tough to alter things.

    Like this:




    Reports suggest in addition to public gatherings where people are enjoying their First Amendment rights to assemble and speak, airports scan passengers, hotels scan lobbies, stores scan aisles, casinos scan their gambling floors and many police street cameras are tied into the systems.

    A publicly-known example occurred after the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013. The subsequent Boston Calling music fest was subject to heavy use facial recognition surveillance, one guesses in case there were more Tsarnaev brothers out there. Law enforcement in the UK used facial recognition technology to scan the faces of thousands of attendees at the Download music festival without their knowledge.


    And, oh, yeah, those iris scanners.

    Iris scanners have quickly moved from the realm of science fiction into everyday public use by governments and private businesses.

    Iris recognition is rarely impeded by contact lenses or eyeglasses, and can work with blind individuals as well. The scanners can catalog up to 50 people a minute without requiring the individuals to stop and stand in front of the scanners.

    Information gathered from iris scanners or facial recognition in multiple locations can be sent to a central database that can be used to track an individual’s movement throughout the city, or to determine which individuals in the database associate together.

    So hippie protesters, have a great time in Cleveland! Actually, the cops will know if you are having a good time, because they are watching.




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  • Summer Convention Fun: Keep an Eye (Ear) Out for the LRAD

    July 20, 2016 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America

    lrad

    With the Democratic and Republican conventions entering normal earth atmosphere, it’s time to get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    Both conventions promise excellent violence in the streets, especially in Cleveland, where a toxic slosh of Trump Brownshirts, anti-Trump protestors and the always blood-thirsty Cleveland PD will meet head-to-head-to-head in “free speech zones,” public parks and perhaps the streets themselves.

    Now even the cops in Ferguson and Baltimore knew they couldn’t just outright fire live rounds (yet) into the crowds while the cameras were there, and maybe the Clevo cops know it too. So what’s a law enforcement officer interested in violently dispersing a crowd to do? Of course there are your standard tear gas rounds, night stick charges, and rubber bullets but that’s all so… 2015.

    So why not use a real 21st century weapon, the LRAD. Watch for it in Cleveland, or at a protest near you.



    Weapons of War

    The LRAD was first deployed for use in Iraq, and quickly found its way onto Navy and commercial ships sailing amongst Somali pirates. The bad boy is a sound cannon.

    The LRAD company prefers to label its product a tool to broadcast messages and pain-inducing “deterrent” tones over long distances. The device produces a sound that can be directed in a beam up to 30 degrees wide, and the military-grade LRAD 2000X can transmit at up to 162dB up to 5.5 miles away.

    Fun fact: A jet engine at 100 feet is 140dB. Sound at 180db will cause tissue damage.

    But of course the LRAD is non-lethal, so its maker says that anyone within a 100 meters of the device’s sound path will experience extreme pain. The version generally utilized by police departments (the LRAD 500X) is designed for short bursts of directed sound that cause severe headaches in anyone within a 300 meter range. Anyone within 15 meters of the device’s audio path can experience permanent hearing loss.

    Permanent hearing loss begins at 130dB, and if the device is turned up to 140dB, anyone within its path would not only suffer hearing loss, they could potentially lose their balance and be unable to move out of the path of the audio.



    First Amendment… Never Heard of It

    So basically, put one of these on a truck and you can clear out a street pretty effectively. And the great thing about such a handy First Amendment-denying tool is that it is indiscriminate. It blasts the breath out of unruly hippies, legitimate journalists, peaceful protesters, happy tourists on the sidewalk, just everybody equally. Sorry about those who were exercising their Constitutional right to protest, because NOW HEAR THIS MOTHERF*CKERS!

    The LRAD device has been used on several occasions against activists in the U.S. The first documented was in Pittsburgh during the G-20 summit in 2009. The Pittsburgh police used it again following the Super Bowl in 2011. The LRAD was used against Occupy protesters in Oakland and New York. New York brought their LRADs out again for the Black Lives Matter marches.

    One Pittsburgh protester sued, saying the LRAD used against her made fluid leak out of her ear, and produced dizziness, nausea, and headaches. The city ultimately settled the suit for $72,000.

    Make no mistake here: this is a weapon of war, developed for the battlefield, that is now being used on American streets against Americans.


    BONUS: The LRAD Corporation announced earlier this month that the LRAD RXL model has been recognized as “Best Acoustic Hailing Service” by the Government Security News 2016 Airport, Seaport, Border Security Awards Program. The LRAD DS-60 was named as a finalist in the “Best Mass Notification System” category.





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  • FBI, Police ‘Visited’ Activists’ Homes Ahead of the Republican National Convention

    July 19, 2016 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    knock


    In another step towards the fascist state Donald Trump has warm dreams envisioning, FBI agents and Cleveland police officers “visited” the homes of local activists in an attempt to gather intelligence on possible planned demonstrations surrounding the Republican National Convention. Such actions step over the line of information gathering into the realm of seeking to chill free speech.


    Activists said they viewed the visits as intimidating. A spokeswoman for the local branch of the FBI acknowledged only that “community outreach” took place as law enforcement officials try to ensure the GOP convention is a “safe and secure” event. During their visits, officials asked activists about past addresses, political and social affiliations, and plans for the RNC. The questions appear on their face of dubious constitutionality.

    A spokesperson for the National Lawyer’s Guild, a group prepared to defend those arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights outside the convention, first reported the visits by teams of federal and local law enforcement officials.

    Some of the activists are involved with groups planning RNC demonstrations, while some aren’t, the spokesperson said. She also said that some of the people who were visited were among the 71 people who were arrested in May 2015 in the aftermath of protests that broke out following the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a then-Cleveland police officer who had been charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the 2013 shooting deaths of two Cleveland motorists following a police chase.


    The FBI and police made no attempts to hide what they were doing; in fact, quite the opposite.

    For example, in a June 8 public hearing, Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told members of City Council’s public safety committee that Cleveland police have “a real, real good idea of who we think is coming here and what their objectives are. And if we can deter those objectives, that’s what we’re going to do.”

    Cleveland purchased a $10 million “protest insurance” policy to protect against civil rights lawsuits resulting from the convention.



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  • At Cleveland Repub Convention, ‘First Amendment Zones’ Will Detain Protesters Far Away From Trump

    July 18, 2016 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    free speech


    Once upon a time, all of America was a First Amendment Zone. That’s now as dead as Alexander Hamilton.


    The city of Cleveland revealed part of its security plan for the Nuremberg rally Republican National Convention. Securing the convention will require a heavily policed, fenced off 3.3 square-mile First Amendment Zone. A fun fact is that the First Amendment Zone is about the same size as Baghdad’s Green Zone.

    (Pictured above is the free speech zone from the 2012 Democratic Convention)


    The Zone concept in Cleveland is to ensure that the people’s rights to free speech are “preserved,” only someplace far enough away that no one can hear them, and surrounded by police so that the speech stays in line.

    The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit to change or block the Zone; the result was only a slight enlargement of the area allotted.

    “What the city has done here is draw a gigantic blanket area that covers most of downtown Cleveland,” says Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “When the government takes the extreme step of limiting speech and assembly in any way, the burden is on them to justify that those restrictions are reasonable.”

    Access into the Cleveland Zone will be controlled by law enforcement, who also will regulate protests and other activity (no details available on what that means; I guess people will need to experiment with what free speech will get them Tasered.) No tennis balls, baseballs, umbrellas with metal tips, ladders, sticks, poles, strollers, flashlights, balloons (?) or bike locks will be allowed. The Zone will be overseen by the Cleveland police, the FBI, FEMA, and the U.S. Secret Service.

    Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson has said the Zone and other crowd control measures are “an attempt to balance between safety, security and constitutional rights of people and ensure we have a successful convention.”

    Ah yes, the old standby of “balancing” security and inalienable rights. Gotta love that. Now let’s go bust some hippie heads!


    BONUS: The use of First Amendment Zones is Constitutional under many circumstances. The Supreme Court, via Ward v. Rock Against Racism, developed a four-part analysis to evaluate the constitutionality of time, place and manner (TPM) restrictions. To pass muster under the First Amendment, TPM restrictions must be neutral with respect to content, narrowly drawn, serve a significant government interest, and leave open alternative channels of communication. The test case had to do with a concert that people nearby felt was too loud, and has been expanded to cover the use of First Amendment Zones.



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  • A Man Burned The Flag And Got Arrested for ‘His Own Safety’

    July 16, 2016 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    flag


    A guy who wasn’t feeling the patriotism decided to burn an American flag and tell the world about it on Facebook — only to get arrested the next day after neighbors complained.


    Bryton Mellott, 22-years-old, of Urbana, Illinois, was taken into custody after police received calls about his Facebook posts, which included a picture of him setting the Stars and Stripes on fire (above) and a message explaining that he was “not proud to be an American. In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis.”


    Despite a very clear 1989 Supreme Court ruling (Texas v. Johnson) affirming that flag burning is a form of political speech fully protected by the First Amendment, cops charged Mellott under Illinois’ flag desecration statute, a law written years before the Supreme Court ruling and which is now unconstitutional.

    Sergeant Andrew Charles of the Urbana Police Department said his town had never charged anyone under that law in 27 years, but that police proceeded with the arrest out of an attempt to “balance civil liberties with issues of safety.”

    He never explained what safety was involved, how any safety issues might have been resolved by the arrest or why no one in Urbana has kept up with the Constitution, which is online.

    The state’s attorney assigned to the case immediately decided not to proceed with a prosecution. No penalties for the cops, however!



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  • Whither Turkey?

    July 15, 2016 // 15 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    A friend of the blog passes on these comments:

    I have just been watching the “Breaking News” about the military coup in Turkey and have been appalled at the historical ignorance of what all of these talking heads, Wolf Blitzer, et al are telling the American people.

    Not a single anchorperson has referred to the Turkish military’s traditional role as the protector of Kemal Ataturk’s original 1920’s military coup to make Turkey a modern sectarian state rather than an Islamist Ottoman oligarchy. This was just following Turkey’s defeat in WWI and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, which was aligned with Germany during the war.

    All of the anchors keep referring to the coup using the phrase “the coup is attempting to overthrow the democratically elected government of Erdogan.” Not a single one has appended that statement with the explanatory note that Erdogan, whose Party is the Islamist Party in Turkey, has used his term in office to slowly restrict free speech, crackdown on a free press, suppress opposition parties, and wage endless wars against the Kurds while tacitly supporting Jihadist groups in Syria who are aligned with ISIS. His aim was to become a permanent ruler in an Islamist state.


    Another interesting sideline that our MSM carefully stays away from is analyzing the potential conflicts within the U.S. government which this coup presents.

    On one hand there must exist very close ties between the U.S. military and Turkish military, since we jointly use Incirlik air base for operations. Then there is the State Department, who is probably having kiniptions over the deal that we signed with Erdogan for Turkey to hold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi-Syrian refugees from entering Europe.

    There still is very testy question of how we can do any business with a coup government that has overthrown a NATO member government. Of course our morals on that are very loose since we helped the Egyptian military overthrow their government, but they didn’t belong to NATO.

    My feeling is that this coup is long overdue and the outcome can be positive for returning Turkey to a more open society. Turkey, under Erdogan and his party, were aligned with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf regressive kingdoms so a sectarian Turkey may cut that tie. A little light in an otherwise dismal outlook.



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  • Was Hillary Clinton’s Email Hacked? The Case

    July 14, 2016 // 14 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, NSA, Questions for Clinton

    putin


    If you were Vladimir Putin, or President Xi of China, what would you do if you had the entire archive of Hillary Clinton’s emails, classified and unclassified, “deleted” and not, in your hands? What value to you would that be in your next round of negotiations with the president of the United States?

    Unencrypted Email

    Hillary Clinton traveled to 19 foreign locations during her first three months in office, inlcuding China, South Korea, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and a meeting in Switzerland with her Russian counterpart. During that period of time her email system was unencrypted. She transmitted data over wireless networks in those countries, networks almost certainly already monitored 24/7 by intelligence and security officials. To say her email was not collected is to say the Russian, Chinese, Israeli and other intelligence services are complete amateurs.

    They are not complete amateurs.



    A System Wide Open to Monitoring

    While FBI director James Comey said his investigators had no “direct evidence” that Hillary Clinton’s email account had been “successfully hacked,” both private experts and federal investigators, according to the New York Times, “immediately understood his meaning: It very likely had been breached, but the intruders were far too skilled to leave evidence of their work.”

    Comey described a set of email practices that left Clinton’s systems wide open to monitoring. She had no full-time cyber security professional monitoring her system. She took her BlackBerry everywhere she went, “sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.” Her use of “a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent… Hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact.”

    The FBI director was generous in his assessment. See, no hacking was really necessary.



    But No Hacking was Really Needed

    Online security company Venafi TrustNet has the world’s largest database of digital certificates and associated metadata, allowing it to go back in time and identify how digital certificates were used in the past, a kind of forensics capability for IT security. Here’s what they found on the clintonemail.com server, and it is not good.

    Using non-intrusive Internet scanning tests routinely performed throughout by IT security teams (meaning foreign intelligence agencies have them too), Venafi learned the Clinton server was enabled for logging in via web browser, smartphone, Blackberry, and tablet. That automatically makes it vulnerable to interception, as the information Clinton was sending and receiving abroad was traveling via other nations’ web infrastructure and open-air cellular networks.

    Clinton’s email log-in page was also on the web, meaning anyone who stumbled on it could try and log in, or employ the standard array of password hacking and brute force attacks against it, much like they did with your Gmail account that was hacked.

    The Clinton email setup also was initially running a standalone Microsoft Windows Server, which is very vulnerable to attack, with at least 800 known trojans/spyware in existence that can steal keys and certificates. If the credentials on the server were compromised in those first three months, then the next years of encryption might have meant nothing.

    How could someone have gained access to the credentials? Clinton’s most recent digital security certificate was issued by GoDaddy. Her domain’s landing page was at one time hosted by Confluence Networks, a web firm in the British Virgin Islands.



    No Smoking Gun?

    If anyone had picked up Clinton’s emails from the airwaves or in transit over the Internet (as we know, via Snowden, the NSA does), while they were encrypted, or had acquired the encrypted versions and used the resources of a state security apparatus to decrypt them, there would of course be no forensic evidence to find. Persons working at NSA-like levels actually breaking into systems expend significant energies hiding their intrusions, and such high level “hacks” have been known to stay hidden for years.

    Sure, if the standard is a “smoking gun,” there is none. But such proof is rarely available in the world of global espionage, and decisions and conclusions are made accordingly on a daily basis.

    Clinton’s email was extremely vulnerable, and her decision to run it off a private server put at significant risk the security of the United States. This is not a partisan attack or a conspiracy; it is technology.



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  • Hillary Clinton, Her Email and a Body Blow to the Freedom of Information Act

    July 13, 2016 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Post-Constitution America

    vintage-man-confused


    Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey announced that his agency is recommending no charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of an unclassified personal email server while secretary of state. Comey offered that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton.


    The implications of these statements, and what happened before and after the announcement, represent what most likely represent the virtual end of the 2016 election cycle. Come November votes will be counted but the single, major, unresolved issue standing in the shadows behind Clinton is now resolved in her favor.


    The director of the FBI labeled the leading contender for the presidency and her staff as “extremely careless” in their use of email, and this is generally seen as positive news by her supporters, the new standard now being not under indictment. Comey also stated that some 110 emails were classified ( at least 24 as Top Secret; one was found to be marked classified on Clinton’s server) when they were transmitted and received, an action that appears to be now inconsequential under national security laws. A New York Times tally found more than 2,000 classified emails.

    There was no electronic connection between the Federal government’s classified systems and Clinton’s unclassified server. This indicates that on 110 separate occasions Clinton and/or one of her correspondents retyped information from a classified format. This means any classified markings (i.e., “Top Secret”) were removed in the process. “This classified information never should have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system,” Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general, said in a statement signed by him and I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community.

    The Inspectors General for the Intelligence Community have stated that some of the classified documents were marked at the highest levels to protect sources and methods used to spy on North Korea via satellite. Emails contained the names of CIA officials. There is no evidence, nor did Comey suggest, that these actions were inadvertent, accidental, occasional, incidental, or other than intentional. It was Clinton’s decision to create the email system that allowed these events to take place. Clinton herself, given her decades of experience in government, clearly could recognize highly classified material, marked or unmarked. Standard Form 312, signed by Clinton and every other security clearance holder in the government, specifically notes that the laws apply to both marked and unmarked classified material. The legality of retroactive classification has been tested at the level of the Supreme Court.)


    While Director Comey maintains there was no intent, or gross negligence, by Clinton to violate the law, it is difficult to reconcile those actions and that statement.


    Hillary Clinton’s earliest statements, that no classified information traversed her server, later changed to “no marked” classified information (the statement itself irrelevant) did not appear to be addressed by the FBI in the context of perjury or obstruction. In addition, Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reports Clinton’s lawyers deleted all e-mails they did not produce to the State Department and then cleaned devices in such a way to preclude forensic recovery.

    The standards applied in the Clinton case are at extreme variance from how classified information violations elsewhere in the government are applied. Space precludes listing examples in detail, but the cases of CIA officer John Kiriakou (served three years in Federal prison for exposing a single, unmarked unclassified business card with the name of a CIA employee) and TSA air marshall Robert Maclean (fired for exposing a text retroactively classified) stand out. Even David Petraeus, who transmitted classified information via his Gmail account to his mistress, received some minor legal punishment and was forced to resign.

    There is simply no precedent to the Clinton decision. One wonders if the millions of U.S. government civil employees, military personnel, and contractors will be held to what appear to be lesser standards than previously held. That certainly wasn’t the case of Marine Major Jason Brezler, who shared classified information with colleagues in Afghanistan in to warn them about a Taliban conspirator, and was forced out of the service in response.

    Director Comey spoke broadly. He did not, for example, directly address the 18 USC 1924, which states “Whoever… becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.” This is the statute under which David Petraeus was prosecuted. It is difficult to reconcile the text of that law with the fact that classified documents resided on a server (for part of the time) at a private company, connected to the internet. A private SPAM filtering service apparently also had access to the classified emails.


    An important issue not addressed by the FBI is the effect Clinton’s actions had on the Freedom of Information Act.

    During her entire tenure as Secretary of State and for some time afterwards, State maintained it had no email records to produce in response to requests. Those statements — while technically true in that State did not control and could not search Clinton’s personal server — blocked journalists, activists, citizens, and for a time, Congress, from documents they were lawfully entitled to. The State Department says it will now require 75 years to release all of the documents currently under request.

    The State Department’s own Inspector General found these actions to be in contravention of the Federal Records Act, and presents what might be seen as chilling preview of press relations and the public’s right to know for the next four years.

    In addition, Clinton deleted about half of the emails from her personal server without oversight. It is unclear whether or not any of those would have been responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests, or contained additional classified information. The FBI did say emails it found in others’ Inboxes, ones not turned over by Clinton, the State Department, were work related. Clinton had previously claimed she turned over all work-related emails.

    In the Clinton case, we are also left with unanswered questions about the timeline of events. Bill Clinton met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on June 28, according to both, to make small talk about grandchildren. On July 1 Lynch announced she would accept Director Comey’s recommendation on the email case. On July 2 the FBI interviewed Clinton for several hours. On June 3, the New York times stated Clinton is considering keeping Lynch in her administration if she wins in November. On July 5 President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton flew together on Air Force One to their first scheduled campaign. Only hours later Comey made his announcement, meaning that whatever Clinton said on Sunday was evaluated and processed in less than two days following a year of active investigation. The appearance of impropriety alone remains damaging to the image of our nation.

    Few believed, right or wrong, that Hillary Clinton would face criminal charges over her handling of classified material. Yet the many unanswered questions and issues not addressed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation remain. It seems unlikely that even if the majority of voters in November see the issue put to rest, that Republicans in Congress will feel the same come January.



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  • Clinton Says She Was ‘Unaware’ She Was Sending Classified Material on Email Server

    July 12, 2016 // 24 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: 2016, Questions for Clinton

    hillary


    She never, through the year and a half that the email saga played out, claimed she did not realize she was transmitting highly classified government secrets through her private email server. Until now.

    A quick recap of Clinton’s explanations about all that classified material on her personal email server, because she has a couple of new ones now.

    — For six some years she hid the fact that she used a personal email server at all;

    — When first outed, she said unambiguously there was no classified at all;

    — After the first reports that highly classified data was sent and received, she changed her line to “nothing marked classified.”

    Now that the FBI has declined prosecution stating Clinton had no “intent” to send and receive all sorts of classified data, marked and unmarked, Hillary has adopted a brand new excuse: why, golly gosh, she just didn’t know it was classified! She is also throwing some of her staff under the bus for good measure.

    On Friday, Clinton said she did not realize she was transmitting highly classified government secrets through her private email server while U.S. secretary of state.

    Instead, Clinton shifted the blame onto her former colleagues at the State Department, saying in television interviews she followed their lead on whether or not information was classified. “They, I believe, did not believe they were sending any material that was classified, they were pursuing their responsibilities,” she said in an interview with MSNBC.

    She did not address the findings by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she herself sent information on topics classified at the highest levels of classification.



    Her newest excuse is obviously tailored to match what the FBI said. It holds no water.

    First of course is that with her decades of government experience, it is expected that Clinton would know highly classified data from unclassified. Some of the documents that passed through her server were at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, and appear to have discussed information obtained via satellite spying on North Korea. Others discussed the names of CIA officials, including at least one who was undercover as a Defense Attache abroad. Some documents were clearly marked classified as Clinton saw them on her Blackberry.

    You may not have had a clearance for decades like Hillary, but it seems even a lay person would know that is not run-of-the-mill stuff. At the very least, you might have asked someone to check into it. Clinton’s newest excuse, essentially an ignorance defense, seems a weak qualification for the presidency.

    In addition, by statute, Clinton was the senior classification officer for the Department of State. Of course most of that job was delegated, but delegation does not remove responsibility. Indeed, as president she will delegate most of her work, and blaming problems on underlings is a clear sign of poor leader.

    I know, I know, you’ll vote for her anyway.



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  • Why it Matters the Dallas Police Used a Drone to Kill Someone in America

    July 9, 2016 // 16 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America

    dallas


    The Dallas police ended a standoff with the gunman who killed five officers with a tactic that is unprecedented: it blew him up using a robot.

    This represents the first time in American history that a drone (wheels for now, maybe wings later) was used to kill an American citizen on American soil.


    I get it, I get it.

    The Dallas sniper had killed five cops. He was prepared to kill as many more as he could. He was in a standoff with police, and negotiations had broken down. The Supreme Court has made it clear that in cases such as this, the due process clause (i.e., a trial before execution in this instance) does not apply. If not for the robot bomb, the Dallas police would have eventually shot the sniper anyway. They were fully in their legal rights to kill him. None of those issues are in contention. I am not suggesting in any way the cops should have invited the sniper out for tea.

    I am suggesting we stop and realize that in 2016 the police used a robot to send in an explosive to blow a person up. I am unaware that such a thing has happened in Russia, North Korea, China, Iran or other places where the rule of law is held by the few in power.

    Weapons of War

    The robot represents a significant escalation in the tools law enforcement use on the streets of America. Another weapon of war has come home from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the isolated case of the sniper, dead may be dead, whether by explosive or rifle shot. But in the precedent set on the streets of Dallas, a very important line has been crossed.

    Here’s why this is very bad.

    As in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is clear that an escalation in force by the police can only serve to inflame a situation, and trigger a subsequent escalation among those who will then seek to defend themselves against robots sent against them. In America’s wars, the pattern of you use a drone, I plant an IED is all to familiar. Will person being blown up by the cops likely soothe community tensions, or exacerbate them? Did the use of other military weaponry calm things in Ferguson, or encourage the anger there to metastasize into other locations?

    More Force Sooner?

    And will robots increase or decrease the likelihood cops will employ more force sooner in a situation?

    “The further we remove the officer from the use of force and the consequences that come with it, the easier it becomes to use that tactic,” said Rick Nelson, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former counterterrorism official. “It’s what we have done with drones in warfare. Yet in war, your object is always to kill. Law enforcement has a different mission.”

    Who is Responsible?

    With a drone, it becomes easier to select the easier wrong of killing over the harder right of complex negotiations and methodical police work. Police officers sign up accepting in some ways a higher level of risk than soldiers, in that cops should be exercising a much more complex level of judgement in when and how to use force. Simply because they can use deadly force — or can get away with it — does not make it right. A robot removes risk, and dilutes personal responsibility.

    For example, if an individual officer makes a decision to use his/her personal weapon, s/he takes on full responsibility for the outcome. In the case of a robot, the decision is the product of a long chain of command extending far from whomever has a finger on the switch. The same is true for America’s drone army abroad. The shooter and the decider are far removed from one another.

    Who is responsible? What if we start to believe no one is?




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  • The Baghdad Bombings, Islamic State and What America Still Hasn’t Learned

    July 8, 2016 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Baghdad_Sign from 2004


    The suicide bombings in Baghdad by Islamic State, timed for maximum violence, are only the latest reminders that the United States should not downplay the group.

    Since the wave of Islamic State suicide bombings in May – killing 522 people inside Baghdad, and 148 people inside Syria – American officials have downplayed the suicide bombing strategy as defensive. Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy in the fight against Islamic State, said the group “returned to suicide bombing” as the area under its control shrinks. The American strategy of focusing primarily on the “big picture” recapture of territory seems to push the suicide bombings to the side. “It’s their last card,” stated a compliant Iraqi spokesperson in response to the attacks.

    The reality is just the opposite. Just a day after the June 26 liberation of Fallujah, car bombs exploded in eastern and southern Baghdad. Two other suicide bombers were killed outside the city. An improvised explosive device exploded in southwest Baghdad a day earlier. And now the latest, with a death toll approaching 200.

    Washington should know better than to underestimate the power of small weapons to shape large events. After Donald Rumsfeld labeled Iraqi insurgents as “dead enders” in 2003, they began taking a deadly toll of American forces via suicide bombs. It was the 2006 bombing of the Shi’ite al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra that kicked the Iraqi civil war into high gear. It was improvised explosive devices and car bombs that kept American forces on the defensive through 2011.

    To believe suicide bombings represent a weakening of Islamic State is a near-total misunderstanding of the hybrid nature of the group; Islamic State melds elements of a conventional army and an insurgency. To “win,” one must defeat both versions.

    ISIS differs from a traditional insurgency in that it seeks to hold territory. This separates it from al Qaeda, and most other radical groups, and falsely leads the United States to believe that retaking strategic cities like Fallujah from Islamic State is akin to “defeating” it, as if it is World War Two again and we are watching blue arrows move across the map toward Berlin. McGurk, following Fallujah, even held a press conference announcing Islamic State has now lost 47 percent of its territory. That may be true, but it also does not really matter.


    Simultaneously with holding and losing territory, Islamic State uses terror and violence to achieve political ends.

    Islamic State has no aircraft and no significant long-range weapons, making it a very weak conventional army when facing down the combined forces of the United States, Iran and Iraq in set piece battles. It can, however, use suicide bombs to strike into the very heart of Shi’ite Baghdad (and Syria, Jordan, Yemen, and Turkey – as Tuesday’s bombing reminds us), acting as a strong transnational insurgency.


    Why does such strength matter in the face of ISIS’ large-scale losses such as Fallujah?

    Violence in the heart of Iraqi Shi’ite neighborhoods empowers hardliners to seek revenge. Core Sunni support for Islamic State grows out of the need for protection from a Shi’ite dominated military, which seeks to marginalize if not destroy the Sunnis. Reports of Shi’ite atrocities leaking out of the ruins of Sunni Fallujah are thus significant. Fallujah was largely destroyed in order to “save” it, generating some 85,000 displaced persons, mirroring what happened in Ramadi. Those actions remind many Sunnis of why they supported Islamic State (and al Qaeda before them) in the first place.

    Suicide strikes reduce the confidence of the people in their government’s ability to protect them; Prime Minister Abadi was ridiculed at the site of the most recent attack, and a member of his cabinet forced to resign. In Iraq, that sends Shi’ite militias into the streets, and raises questions about the value of civil institutions like the Iraqi National Police. Victories such as the retaking of Ramadi and Fallujah, and a promised assault on Mosul, mean little to people living at risk inside the nation’s capital.

    American commanders have already had to talk the Iraqi government out of pulling troops from the field to defend Baghdad, even as roughly half of all Iraqi security forces are already deployed there. This almost guarantees more American soldiers will be needed to take up the slack.

    Anything that pulls more American troops into Iraq fits well with the anti-American Islamic State narrative. Few Iraqis are left who imagine the United States can be an honest broker in their country. A State Department report found that one-third of all Iraqis believe the Americans are actually supporting Islamic State, while 40 percent are convinced that the United States is trying to destabilize Iraq for its own purposes.

    The suicide bombings — in Iraq and elsewhere — are not desperate or defensive moves. They are not inconsequential. They are careful strategy, the well-thought out application of violence by Islamic State. The United States downplays them at great risk.



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  • Four Important Things the FBI Didn’t Say About Hillary Clinton’s Email

    July 6, 2016 // 24 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Questions for Clinton

    hillaryskates


    My thoughts on the FBI’s decision not to indict Hillary Clinton over her mishandling of classified information are posted elsewhere today.

    Have a look at Reuters.com to see what I have to say!








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  • Thomas Jefferson’s Ghost Visits the White House

    July 5, 2016 // 26 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

    jefferson.resized

    “Who the hell are you?” said a startled Barack Obama, clad only in his Kenyan flag boxers.

    “Easy Barack, chill. Wait, sleeping alone? Awkward. Anyway, I’m Thomas Jefferson, or at least his ghost. Every once in awhile I get bored haunting the attic at the White House and come down to visit, see how the wonderful democracy we created is doing. Add any new rights to our Bill of Rights recently?”

    “Um, it sort of hasn’t gone that way. Except maybe for the Second Amendment, lots of solid growth there,” said Obama.

    “Yes, yes, even upstairs we’ve heard the gunshots. You realize we intended that so Americans would be ready to serve as citizen-soldiers when called up to form militias, right? We never wanted a large standing army, and figured if every stout yeoman farmer retained a musket that would pretty much cover it. I’ll check my notes, but I am pretty sure we never intended the Second to end up arming unhindered homophobic maniacs, or angry white guys who hate abortion in the name of a Christian God, with bazookas.”

    “Sure, Tom, we may have made a misstep or two, but we had a couple of Democrats stage a sit in on the House floor to demand gun control,” said Obama.

    “Hmmm. Sitting down when they should be standing up for something? And why weren’t you with them, Barack?”

    “Um, I had Hamilton tickets, couldn’t make it.”

    “Oh, jeez, Hamilton, again. Where the hell’s my musical? Anyway, how are the rest of the Amendments doing?” Jefferson said.

    “Well, Tom, we had to make a few… adjustments. Time of war and all.”

    “Good God, did a foreign army invade Boston? Damned Canadian troops cross the border? British Men o’ War in New York harbor? What is this war?”

    “Well, 15 years ago some guys killed about half as many Americans who have died in the wars we started since then. That’s kinda it, really,” said Obama. “Been basically riffing off that ever since.”


    “And?”

    “And so we pretty much trashed the Fourth Amendment and now spy on all Americans 24/7. The First Amendment, especially the right to free speech part, that hasn’t held up well, either,” said Obama. “And you have to take your shoes off at the airport but none of us remember why that is anymore.”

    “But Barack, a well-informed citizenry, secure in their persons and papers, who can assemble to speak truth to their government is essential,” Jefferson said. “Actually, that’s kinda the whole thing.”

    “Sure, we have free speech zones at all the big events now, and CNN holds TV townhalls with pre-selected questions. Got that covered. But don’t ask me about due process. I kinda kill American citizens abroad with drones now. Yeah, so there’s that. You know what a mic drop is, Thomas?”

    “OK, OK, I glanced at a newspaper on my way down here, and at least there is some good news. I see that you finally corrected the biggest mistake we made with the Constitution, and got rid of slavery. Indeed, I see now that most Americans are even saying how much Black Lives Matter. That is a very nice sentiment,” Jefferson said.

    “Thomas, maybe you better sit down and I’ll explain…”




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  • Stop Giving Chickens Away, Bill Gates

    June 30, 2016 // 29 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, PRT Life

    chicken

    Bill Gates’ philanthropic efforts are usually greeted with near-universal praise from people who love his money believe he is a great humanitarian, but Bill Gates knows very little about sustainable, intelligent development.



    Bolivia to Bill Gates: Go to Hell and Take Your Chickens with You

    The billionaire recently sought to donate 100,000 chickens to impoverished countries. The leftist government of Bolivia, one of the nations to receive the poultry, refused the donation, describing Gates’ gift as “offensive.”

    “He does not know Bolivia’s reality to think we are living 500 years ago, in the middle of the jungle not knowing how to produce,” said Bolivia’s minister of land and rural development. “Respectfully, he should stop talking about Bolivia, and once he knows more, apologize to us.”

    Coop Dreams

    Gates announced the chicken initiative — dubbed [Honestly, I am not making this up] “Coop Dreams” — earlier this month.

    “It’s pretty clear to me that just about anyone who’s living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens,” wrote Gates, who was born in a well-to-do suburb and has pretty much been one of the One Percent ever since. “In fact, if I were in their shoes, that’s what I would do — I would raise chickens.” He says that the animals are easy and inexpensive to raise, empower women (“because chickens are small and stay close to home”), and can help feed children in poor families.

    Melinda Gates also likes chickens and women. She calls chickens “the ATM of the poor,” because they are easy to sell on short notice to cover day-to-day expenses.



    What’s Wrong with Free Stuff?

    So Bolivia aside, what could be wrong with free chickens?

    — All countries have some sort of market economy going on. Farmers raise animals, and sell them to local people. In places without a lot of electricity and transportation, this all functions at a micro-level. There is a relationship between the economic needs and capacities of the farmer and how much food the local people want to buy. If you dump lots of free chicken into that system, the system tends to collapse. Prices can go up if people get greedy and push food out of the budgets of many, or go down because supply exceeds demand, and that can drive farmers out of business.

    — The bit about “empowering women” by having them raise chickens can have the same effect as above, basically adding lots more producers into a closed system and hoping everything does not go to hell. It also ignores the question of what else those women might have to do, how many know anything about raising chickens, have space to do it and have the money needed to buy feed, veterinary services, whatever chicken raisers need.

    — If the woman ends up with more chicken than her family needs, how is she to market it? Does she have access to transportation? Is there a dealer network? Most markets in the developing world are closed systems; one does not simply wander in and set up a stall.

    — If a large number of women, or anybody, are raising chickens, why would others need to buy chickens? Wouldn’t they be raising their own?

    — When people come to believe someone from the outside will randomly show up with free stuff, they tend to stop working very hard and just wait for the next shipment. Until it doesn’t come and then pretty much their world collapses.

    — In developing economies, one does not just acquire 100,000 chickens, or import them, and drive around the countryside in four-wheel drive Ubers. One must work with the host country officials, who, sad to say, see their jobs mainly as a way to get rich off of corruption. There is a very good chance the well-meaning Gates’ will encourage host-country corruption by paying the bribes, processing fees, needed for their chickens, and there is a good chance the local officials will shake down the recipients of the charity once Bill has moved on to do good elsewhere.

    — Now the reason you would donate chickens to a country is because that country lacks enough chickens. Well, you better hope that the chickens you buy somewhere else don’t bring in anything like disease or pests that the host country is not ready for.

    — Bill claims most of the people he wants to give chickens to earn only $2 a day, but that the chickens sell for $5 a bird. Who will be buying up all that chicken? Maybe at some point a kind of chicken-trickle-down effect will occur?

    — Bill and Melinda write about how when women in these countries become entrepreneurs with chicken, they will “have a voice.” Money certainly does talk in the world Bill and Melinda live in, but in traditional societies (for better or worse) the role of women changes very, very slowly. A few bucks made selling chickens, if that even happens, is unlikely to dent thousands of years of culture, particularly if that culture is also deeply embedded in a religion such as Islam. And some women may not really want to be entrepreneurs. The West tends to assume that all Muslim women, for example, hate the way their life works and wish to one day were mini-skirts and strappy red high heels



    Sustainability

    If you are talking about a short-term food donation to stave off hunger, such as after an earthquake, go ahead, please help. But for any long-term good to come of all this, it must respect the realities of the local market, and it must be sustainable. Free chickens are unlikely to do that.


    BONUS: Now some might ask: Peter, how do you know anything about this? To which I would answer: because I watched an almost identical project fail in Iraq. The United States, in what we called Operation Chicken Run, sought to remake the local chicken market in a rural area of Iraq, and every bad thing I mentioned above actually did happen, in real time, around us. There’s a whole chapter in my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People about this, appropriately titled “Chicken Sh*t.”

    DOUBLE BONUS: Bill Gates would probably improve the lives of more people by dumping 100,000 X-Boxes on them.




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  • Burn It All Down

    June 29, 2016 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Military, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Reichstag fire

    Here’s where things stand.


    The only mainstream candidate in recent decades to come along with new ideas, a model of not accepting big money with strings attached, and willing to address the critical issues in America of economic inequality and lack of health care for many, is done.


    Unless Lin-Manuel Miranda does a musical of his life, Bernie’s just a footnote in the history books. But the stigma that he won via a set of tricks to include the “superdelegate system,” some election fraud, and overt partisanship by the Democratic National Committee and much of the media, never mind what Obama does with the FBI report into her mishandling of classified information, lingers like the smell of ripe sh*t in a stadium toilet.

    The Republican candidate pulled in a helluva lotta votes via old-fashioned demagoguery, modern racism, and some clever Tweets. Trump is running strong in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But his own party hates him, many refuse to endorse him, a lot of people are hoping he self-destructs, and many more want some magic process to replace him with one of the “good Republicans” who already failed in the primaries.

    And then Hillary. She has famously high negatives, is distrusted by a vast number of Americans, believed to be an actual criminal by large numbers, and has yet to answer for her emails and her corrupt Clinton Foundation. She is the textbook case of big money, big donor politics, and a lifetime Washington insider. Republican hatred for her assures Congress will do as little as possible for any agenda she puts forward if elected, assuming she has one other than to immediately start her campaign for a second term while further enriching herself.



    That all adds up to a miserable picture of America in 2016. We have a reality TV star and real estate developer running against the only candidate in American history seeking the White House while under an active FBI criminal investigation.

    What’s a voter with still intact critical thinking skills to do? Fall victim to the emerging meme of both candidates, vote for the lesser of two evils, pick me or you’ll get the other one? Are we really supposed to participate in an electoral process that is subtitled “Pick the One That Sucks a Little Less?”

    No. Let the whole damn thing burn down and collapse.

    Let Trump/Clinton take us into as many wars as they hope to, bleed our youth and our treasury dry. Stand back as three military personnel a day commit suicide. Fight the Russians, ISIS, the Chinese, militarize Africa like 21st century colonialists, set up more secret prisons, expand Guantanamo, torture, hell, rape the families of “terrorists” in front of them to force confessions on anything and everything and then use that info for a new war. Fake WMDs in Iraq? That was amateur work.

    Let them concentrate more and more wealth into a tiny group, such that the concept of the “One Percent” is quaint; let it be the .01 percent. Let them deliver cash and gold directly to the front door of the White House and stop pretending such things are “contributions.” Let people go hungry, make higher education only for the rich or those stupid enough to take on a lifetime of student loan debt. Watch people suffer from lack of basic health care. Stop wasting money on infrastructure that wealthy people never use anyway. Thin out the herd with lead-soaked water.

    Throw up billboards reminding everyone that the NSA is spying on everything they do, and make kids rat out their parents who smoke weed. Unleash the drones over America and stop wasting money “prosecuting” American terrorists. Keep the prisons looking like plantations.


    And then stand back and watch it all burn down. Turn us loose to eat each other. Make us fight for scraps and scavenge trash piles. If anything is left after all that, then maybe we can try again. If not, we should all just smile and welcome Chelsea Clinton to the White House in 2024.




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  • Google, YouTube, Facebook, Others, Now Using Automated Blocking of ‘Extremist’ Content

    June 25, 2016 // 25 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    GoogleEvil



    The web’s biggest content providers have started using automation to remove “extremist propaganda” videos from their sites.



    Censoring Content

    YouTube (owned by Google) and Facebook are among the sites deploying systems to block or rapidly take down Islamic State videos and other similar material, sources said, though no company would confirm the action.

    The technology employed was originally developed to remove copyright-protected content on video sites. It looks for “hashes,” unique digital fingerprints that Internet companies automatically assign to specific videos, allowing all content with matching fingerprints to be removed rapidly. Someone finds an offensive video, tags it, and then searches find other copies across the Internet.

    Newly posted videos would be checked against a database of banned content to identify unauthorized information.

    The system was kicked off in late April, amid pressure from an Obama White House concerned about online radicalization. Internet companies held a conference call to discuss options, including use of a content-blocking system put forward by the private Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit controlled in part by George W. Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend.



    Get it yet?

    Government and private industry will decide what content you (as well as journalists and academics) may see on the Internet. What is and is not allowable will be decided by a closed process, and will be automated. A database will be drawn upon for decision making.

    Databases and tagging can be hacked/manipulated, perhaps by governmental intelligence organizations, maybe some bad guys, hell, even by advertisers to control what is available to you online.

    Since content removed equals content prohibited, you’ll never know what you can’t see. The obvious slippery slope is in decisions about what is “extremist” and what is legitimate free, political speech that, while offensive, has a right to be heard and a place in the market of ideas.

    So how about blocking all videos of police violence during say a Ferguson/Baltimore scenario, so as not to “inflame” a situation?

    And even if Government A plays nicely, Government B may not, and dictatorships and oligarchies will have a new tool for repression. In the same way Western companies are forced now by China, for example, to adjust content, they will likely be forced to add things to the no-fly database of ideas. Corporations will be in a position to censor things on behalf of governments.

    Via the Edward Snowden documents, we already know that many tech companies cooperate directly with the NSA and others, either voluntarily, or under pressure from secret national security practices and laws. It is not a matter of “it can happen here,” but one of “it is already happening here.”

    But, some will say, Google, et al, are private companies. They can do what they want with their businesses, and you don’t have to use them.

    Certain private businesses, such as power companies and transportation providers, have become clearly so much a part of society that they indeed can’t just do what they want. They become public utilities, and there is no doubt that organizations like Google are squarely in the category.

    Lastly, for those who prefer dictionary things, do check up on the definition of true fascism: a collusion between government and industry.



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  • New Service Sends Summaries of Your Social Media to Landlords, Employers to ‘Assess’ You

    June 24, 2016 // 14 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: NSA, Post-Constitution America

    social_media

    Here’s a shout out to all of you who said “If I’ve got nothing to hide I’ve got nothing to fear” after the Snowden revelations. And this little gem deals only with publicly available information about you. Imagine what it’s like when it gets into the good stuff you think is private.


    An Orwellian startup called Tenant Assured will to take a deep dive into your social media, including chats, check-ins, how many times you’ve posted words like pregnant, wasted, busted, no money, broke, moving back in with the parents, weed, or loan, and deliver to potential landlords and employers a “personality score.”

    While many people already Google folks they might rent to or hire, this new service aggregates a mountain of information and then evaluates it. At the end, someone gets some numbers that describe you (see sample reports, below,) with little idea how those numbers came to be determined.

    How many times did you check-in at a bar? Are you a drunk who’ll screw up at work? How often does your relationship status change? Same sex relationships? Evidence of drug use? Political affiliation?


    The report will also assess your “financial stress level” as a breakdown of five personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

    The company says it is aware that some of the information it gathers cannot legally be used to decline a loan, lease or job, but nicely covers itself. “All we do is give them the information,” a spokesperson said. “It’s up to landlords to do the right thing.”

    The company states its goal as “you won’t hire a dog sitter or book an Airbnb without first viewing a social media dossier,” as compiled by the company.

    Welcome to your future. We’ll soon be looking back on the Snowden revelations as quaint.


    A sample report:




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  • Teen Sues U.S. Over Cavity Drug Search for Which She was Billed $575

    June 23, 2016 // 9 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America

    strip search

    Ashley Cervantes, a then 18-year-old American citizen, was stopped at the Mexico border and, for some unspecified reason, perhaps related to her being young and of Hispanic ethnicity, accused by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of smuggling drugs.



    What Drugs?

    A search of her person and belongings proved fruitless, which often is a strong indicator that there are no drugs. The process involved being locked into a detention room for several hours, handcuffed to a chair, while several dogs were brought in to sniff at her. A request to call her mother was denied.

    But bullying is the best law enforcement tactic, so they gave her a body cavity search, which means a CBP agent put on some rubber gloves and shoved a finger up her vagina and butt. She was also made to squat pantless so female investigators could visually inspect her privates. Still no drugs.

    So Customs and Border Protection took her to a local hospital against her will, in handcuffs. No warrant, no consent. Instead, a Customs and Border Protection agent signed a “Treatment Authorization Request” as she was considered an alleged “potential internal carrier of foreign substance.” That form requested an X-ray.

    After the X-ray showed no drugs, doctors performed another vaginal and anal search. No drugs. She was finally released after seven hours of humiliation and given a bill for $575 for “medical treatment.”



    What Rights?

    Cervantes now has a civil rights lawsuit pending against the government. “[I] had never before been to a gynecologist and, for the remainder of my life, will always remember that my first pelvic and rectal exams were done under the most inhumane circumstances imaginable to a U.S. citizen at a hospital on U.S. soil,” she charges.

    What Border?

    Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are in the United States as soon as they step off an international flight, or as long as they are waiting for their outbound flight, or as they enter a CBP office on the border, as with Cervantes in the case above, and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights.

    Wrong. And the irony that a person can be separated from his Constitutional rights by a border marked by a pane of glass is not to be missed.

    The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state.

    Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering or leaving the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

    What Border, 2016 Edition?

    Here’s the twist in the present era: The definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

    What once were modest exceptions in Constitutional America morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can and conduct warrantless searches.




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  • Destroying Fallujah to ‘Save It’

    June 21, 2016 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    ramadi

    One of the concepts that emerged from the Vietnam War was that of destroying a village to save it.

    The idea was that by leveling a place where people once lived, the area would be denied to the Viet Cong. The people? Well, they’d just have to find somewhere else. And you’re welcome, for your freedom!

    The same cynical policy seems very much underway now in Iraq, in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State.


    Fallujah

    The current focus is on the city of Fallujah. During Iraq War 2.0, the United States captured the city twice, the final time via a siege that would have embarrassed the Nazis outside Stalingrad. White phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons were used against a civilian population living amidst some groups of Sunni militias and al Qaeda terrorists. No one knows the civilian death count.

    In Iraq War 3.0, 2016 edition, beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was quick to declare victory in mid-June after Shia militias reached the center of Fallujah, displacing the Islamic State (an official in the U.S.-led coalition said Iraqi forces had so far taken only half of Fallujah, but why does that matter.)

    Whomever is winning, the fighting has forced more than 85,000 residents to flee in a humanitarian crisis you’ll need to work hard to learn more about. One of the few Western journalists actually on the ground in Fallujah, the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris (follow her at @LovedayM if you have any interest in Iraq at all), described the scene as “No tents, latrines, water tanks for some. Aid agencies just can’t keep up. In 4.5 years covering Syria and Iraq I’ve never seen conditions this bad… No words.”


    Ramadi

    It will be years, if ever, before Fallujah is a functioning city again. How do we know? Because of Ramadi.

    Ramadi was the city before Fallujah that was destroyed to free it from Islamic State. Some six months after that victory, the city remains a disaster zone. Estimates are that almost 80 percent of the buildings in Ramadi, including the majority of around 32,000 residential housing units, infrastructure, government departments and schools, have been damaged or destroyed. ISIS did its share of damage, but the U.S. launched thousands of airstrikes, artillery barrages and rocket attacks into the urban areas. Shia militias did the rest.

    Special engineering committees were created to assess the damages, award compensation and schedule re-building. Forms are still being given out to members of the public who venture back into the ruins. According to local administrators, around $19.5 billion will be needed to rebuild the city.

    Since the committees started work in May, they have received around 17,000 applications for compensation, says the mayor of Ramadi. About 50,000 are expected. Staff have managed to process 3,000 applications so far and have made the required site visits at a rate of only 30 and 50 per day.

    So far, the Baghdad central government has only provided about one million dollars. That’s Ramadi. Fallujah awaits.



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  • What is Missing from the Memo 51 U.S. Diplomats Signed Urging Strikes Against Assad in Syria

    June 20, 2016 // 22 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Military, Syria

    assad


    Despite over 400,000 dead and ongoing ground and air campaigns inside the country by the U.S., Russia and several others, 51 U.S. diplomats are publicly demanding the Obama administration launch strikes directly against Bashir Assad in Syria.


    Quick Summary:

    The Assad family has ruled Syria since the 1970s with an iron hand, employing secret police and other standard dictator tricks to suppress dissent. Things got so cozy between Syria and the U.S. that in the early days of the war on terror the CIA was sending “suspects” to Syria for some outsourced torture, as nobody can run a secret prison better than Arabs.

    Papa Assad passed away and his son Bashir assumed the presidency in 2000. Some ten years later Assad did the same thing most Arab dictators did, including U.S. allies like Egypt, and ordered crackdowns on Arab Spring protesters. The U.S. then decided in an on-again, off-again fashion to “remove” Assad. When no one in the U.S. really liked the sound of that following the disastrous regime changes in Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the U.S. attacked Syria anyway in the name of smiting Islamic State [ISIS]. Assad, whatever else he is and he is no doubt a real bastard, is also at war with ISIS. Some 400,000 Syrians have died so far in the civil war.

    And there’s a photo above of Secretary of State and Bashir Assad hanging out in better days. Times change, man.

    A Memo

    With that as background, 51 mid-level American diplomats took the brave stand of writing a memo (technically known as using the State Department dissent channel.) The memo was promptly leaked to the press.

    Oh, a memo calling for more war written by people who wear suits and ties to work (technically known as chickenhawks.)

    The memo says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of standoff and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

    Regime Change

    Robert Ford, former ambassador to Syria, said, “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government.”

    Regime change. Bloody change, as it seems odd to imagine Assad would negotiate his own ouster.

    What the Memo Left Out

    The dissent memo makes no suggestions, actually no mention at all, about who would succeed Assad, or how this regime change would be any different than the failed tries in Iraq, Libya or Yemen, or how ISIS, who also seeks the end of the Assad regime through violence, would not be further empowered, or how the U.S. would get away with airstrikes given the overt Russian support for the Assad regime. Everyone except for those brave memo-ists has seen this movie before.

    Also missing from the memo are any notes on what if any military service the 51 signatories have amongst them, or why this call for more blood comes from the State Department and not from the military, whose commanders have raised questions about what would happen in the event that Assad was forced from power. Their questions are likely motivated by the fact that they would be asked to risk their lives to clean the mess.

    Finally, no one seems to remember anymore why “we” need to “take out” Assad. He is no doubt a terrible person who kills to protect his power. But leaders like that are not in short supply across the Middle East, in Africa and places like North Korea. It seems a more specific rationale, tied directly to some clear U.S. strategic interest, is needed (remember, Assad is fighting ISIS and has never sought to export terror to the U.S.) Assad also enjoys support inside his country by some minority, who will not go away quietly if he is changed out. See what happened to the Baathists in Iraq, who organized some of the first resistance to the U.S., and went on to help staff up ISIS.



    That said, it sure is a nicely-typed memo. Luckily no one in Washington pays much attention anymore to the State Department. So, State, go back to what you do best: hiding emails, and leave this stuff to the adults.



    BONUS: Funny thing about that “dissent” memo. It seems that the dissent expressed in fact parallels the feelings of Secretary of State John Kerry, and possible next-president Hillary Clinton, that the U.S. should attack Assad directly. Leave it to State t find a way to change dissent into ass kissing.




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  • Dude Writes ‘ISIS Beer Funds!!!’ in Venmo Memo, Feds Impound His $42 Transfer

    June 18, 2016 // 14 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    venmo

    …For Freedom!


    Now this is one way to stop terrorism, particularly the funding of ISIS. Did the United States clamp down on Saudi Arabia funneling millions to ISIS and other Sunni terror groups? Use American military power to stop the illegal weapons trade to ISIS? Bomb the hell out of the oil wells and transit systems ISIS uses to raise hard currency?

    Hell no. The government of the United States used its full resources to steal $42 from some drunk dude who wrote “ISIS Beer Funds!!!” in the memo field on Venmo when he tried to pay back his buddy for a night out.


    Hipster dude Ben told Ars Technica his story:

    Telling a friend you’re paying him back for “ISIS beer funds!!!” is not a particularly good joke. I knew this as I was typing it at 2am on a Sunday, but what I did not know is that it’s an even worse joke on Venmo because the federal government will detain your $42.

    Almost immediately after I hit send, Venmo — you know, the app that allows people to send money to each other via their phones — blasted an e-mail into my inbox. The company wanted to “better understand a recent payment,” specifically:

    On 02/21/16, you sent a payment for the amount of $42.00 for, “ISIS beer funds!!!” We’re trying to understand your reference to “ISIS,” the purpose of this payment, including a detailed explanation of what you intended to pay for and the establishment/location, if applicable.

    Dude Ben, perhaps floating on $42 worth of brewskis, doubled down for the fun, replying:

    “ISIS beer funds!!!” when more accurately it could be described as “it is beer funds!!!” The $42 was payment to a dear friend for two pitchers of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, minus his serving plus tip to the waitress, at the Slaughtered Lamb Pub (a much friendlier establishment than the name would suggest!) in a somewhat “hip” part of New York City’s West Village. Thank you for your query, and if you have any further questions, it is possible to reach me at this e-mail address.



    Venmo didn’t buy it. “Unfortunately,” wrote someone who signed the e-mail as Heather, “due to OFAC regulations, we are not allowed to give the funds back to you or issue a refund.”

    OFAC is the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the part of the Federal government that is supposed to stop billions in drug and terror money from being transhipped through a false account in Panama to an Internet cafe in Damascus. You would certainly think they would have other things to worry about than $42 in a bar in New York, but you would be wrong.

    Our Ben is presently filling out forms for OFAC trying to get his $42 back. One hopes he has learned his lesson — never fund terrorism while drunk.


    BONUS: Here’s a guy whose check to his dog walker was stopped because he wrote the dog’s name, Dash, in the memo field, which the Fed thugs read as Daesh, one Arabic term for ISIS.



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  • Is ISIS Converting Two-Thirds of Humvees Given to Iraq Into Car Bombs?

    June 17, 2016 // 7 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military

    Humvee


    We may have achieved peak military-industrial complex: the U.S. is in part supplying both sides of the Iraq-Islamic State conflict and through that, creating the need for a new class of weapons to be sold as a counter measure. As arms manufacturers across our great land say, it doesn’t get any better than this.


    Islamic State militants have not only acquired a grand majority of the military Humvees gifted to and then abandoned by the Iraqi Army, they are now re-purposing them into car bombs to use against the Iraqi Army (Hint: don’t leave the keys in the car next time.*)

    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi confirmed that 2,300 are in ISIS hands, more than two-thirds of all Humvees provided to Iraq by the U.S.

    While the vehicles make for handy battlefield transportation, it turns out they are almost tailor-made for use as suicide car bombs.

    “There’s a simple reason the militants are using Humvees and other armored vehicles as rolling bombs,” reported Foreign Policy. “Their armor plating prevents defenders from killing the trucks’ drivers before the militants can detonate their loads, while the vehicles’ capacity to carry enormous amounts of weight means the Islamic State can pack in a ton of explosives.”


    What to do when the weapons you gave to the Iraqi Army ended up as a super weapon of the enemy? Why, you sell new weapons to the Iraqi Army!

    And so the U.S. has outfitted the Kurdish Peshmerga with 1,000 AT-4 anti-tank missiles last year, and plans to send 2,000 to the so-called Iraqi Army. Germany has provided the Peshmerga with the Milan guided missile, which has also been proven effective against the Humvee bombs. Assuming the Iraqi side holds on to their American-made missiles, they can be used to blow up the American-made Humvees.

    The things work well. In fact, according to the Daily Caller, the anti-tank missiles are so popular, one Kurdish family even named their child after the weapon.


    * Joke! They don’t have keys.



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  • The FBI ‘Missed’ Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen. What Should We Do?

    June 16, 2016 // 21 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: NSA, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    omar

    If I had to choose one phrase to sum up America’s efforts against terrorism since 9/11, it would be that lay definition of mental illness, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.


    Following 9/11 we had to go after the terrorists in their dark lairs. So we did, in Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Libya, then Yemen, then by militarizing Africa, the Iraq again and then Syria. We’ve been bombing and invading places in the Middle East continuously since 9/11, every day expecting different results.

    Literally days after 9/11, it was felt that the problem was the government did not know enough about what was happening inside the U.S. vis-vis terrorists, so the vast capabilities of the NSA and FBI were pointed inward. From a relatively modest start, we advanced to Snowden-esque levels where every phone call, every email and every GPS-tracked move of everyone is monitored, every day expecting different results.

    When it seemed we did not have the intelligence and enforcement tools needed, we created a new cabinet level agency, the Department of Homeland Security. That quickly grew into one of the largest bureaucracies in America. We created terror fusion centers, staffed up at the FBI and CIA, every day expecting different results.



    Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen

    And that of course brings us to Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen, whom the FBI stalked for 10 months, interviewed twice and then ignored. Through that we learned that there are some 10,000 FBI terrorism investigations open, with new cases added daily as Americans are encouraged to see something and say something. The New York Times tells us tens of thousands of counterterrorism tips flow into the FBI each year, some maybe legitimate, others from “vengeful ex-spouses or people casting suspicion on Arab-Americans.”

    The flood of leads is so relentless that counterterrorism agents hung a section of fire hose outside their offices in Northern Virginia as a symbol of their mission.


    Intelligence Surge, or a Surge of Intelligence?

    So having missed the Orlando shooter, the Boston Marathon bombers, angry white anti-abortion shooters here and there, the answer is obvious. We need more FBI resources (Hillary Clinton has already called for an “intelligence surge”), of course every day thereafter expecting different results.

    It is almost as if by trying to track every branch, leaf and dirt clod in the forest we are missing the trees. By running down every panicked tip (can you imagine how many calls have come in since Sunday in Orlando?) as a CYA exercise, we get bitten in the YA part over and over.

    The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept. If so many are terrorists in one form or another, how can anyone pinpoint the real bad guys, should many of them exist at all?

    By imagining we can track everyone and then sort them out, we are leaving outside the door the discussion of just why terrorists seem to keep attacking the U.S. Could it have something to do with our scorched earth policy in the Middle East?

    By becoming terrified of every brown-skinned person and Muslim in America, we are leaving outside the door the discussion of how throwing innocent people off planes, maintaining secret no-fly lists, spying on whole communities, and giving media platforms to every nut job that wants to rant about what they don’t know but hate anyway about Islam might be helping “radicalize” folks here at home and abroad.

    And certainly never admitting that our culture of easily available weaponry might play a role shuts down any useful discussions about gun control.

    I am sure it is reasonable to expect different results by tomorrow.




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  • Your One-Size-Fits-All American Mass Slaughter Article

    June 15, 2016 // 16 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Other Ideas

    pulseribbon01.resized

    We American value efficiency. We like to “get to it.” So why do we have to write and read pretty much the same articles, and do the same stuff, every time another mass slaughter occurs?

    So to help out, here’s your one-size-fits-all article. I hope you bookmark it, and refer back to it when the next act takes place. And a request– for those commenting, please try and keep your remarks as generic as possible as well in the spirit of things.



    President, Governor, Mayor, Church Leaders, et al:

    What happened today in __________, the slaughter of ___________ innocent Americans, is a great national tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. (Optional) We will take absolutely no real action to stop this from occurring again.



    All Media:

    We don’t yet know what caused the shooter(s) to act as they did, but it is believed they were (pick one or more) radicalized by Twitter, white Christians opposed to abortions, Muslim jihadis long planning this type of thing, mentally ill. Their neighbors said (pick one) they were nice people who kept to themselves or odd folks everyone kinda stayed away from.

    Try and keep the story alive for a few news cycles through (pick one) fear mongering, analysis, or a “local angle” (a Podunk man recalls visiting the sight of the massacre only last year, saying he felt security was too light even then.)

    If you are in the “serious” media, please dig out your commentary from last time, where you either plead passionately to remember the victims or try to unemotionally “look at the facts” without “politicizing this.”

    For late night hosts, start with an impassioned five-minute cold open where you address the camera directly and then do your regular show.



    Everyone:

    — Everyone must fill up the Internet with poorly-reasoned arguments about gun control, citing ridiculous statistics, posting inflammatory graphics and blaming one or more political candidate. A handful of people will pretend to try to reconcile the two groups and end up unfriended by everyone. Be sure to get into side arguments on what is an automatic weapon and what is an assault rifle.

    — Many people will seek pseudo-victim status, either by finding some connection with those killed (“You know, I lived in _______ for like six months. It could’ve been me, man”) or simply by changing their Facebook and Twitter avatars to the appropriate flag or ribbon graphic.

    — Do stuff to “raise awareness,” whatever the f*ck that even means. Maybe a vigil, a GoFundMe, mail out some cookies, write things online like “Today we are all (add in the kind of victim)” If the massacre is abroad, say that in your best Google Translate foreign language version.

    — Christian nut jobs, please blame whatever happened on God’s wrath because of gay stuff, abortions or something about the Blacks.



    Most Important:

    Get through the checklists above in about three days, and then forget this all until the next one. Catch up on Game of Thrones, or hit that Mindy Project binge watch hard.






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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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